Today, a few dozen white women gathered (on the occupied ancestral territories of the Coast Salish peoples) in front of a painted banner that read “SlutWalk Vancouver” to take a stand against slut-shaming and rape culture in general — without acknowledging that for many women of colour, this shared experience has no roots in how they dress or how much they were drinking. More on what that means momentarily (e.g., see the image of one of the flyers I was handing out). In other words, white feminists gathered once again to shout out against issues that effect all women, but they did so in such a way that how it is being communicated conveys the message that rape culture somehow either only impacts white women dressed a certain way or disproportionately impacts them, even though the intersections of rape culture and racism guarantee that women of colour consistently have it far worse. It must be magic. So I went to counter-picket this demonstration with the message that SlutWalk is itself a fundamentally racist exercise in its principles and its leadership. Or white supremacist, if you prefer. Same difference in this case. I came with my entire body and face covered, wearing a home-made sandwich board that read “Attention SlutWalk – Yes, You’re Racist” on the front, with the following on the back:
I also printed out 500 flyers (with help — I’m extremely financially disadvantaged), and did my best to pass out as many as I could to passersby from the corner of West Georgia and Howe Street. Just the night before, I joined the local Sikh community in the very same place to remember and acknowledge the Indian Sikh genocide of 1984. I stood today just about right where I personally had been slut-shamed by a Vancouver cop almost exactly one year ago (yep, that actually happened; and where were you?), during a counter-picket against a pro-life extremist group, because I had been running about topless for about five minutes. Of note, public toplessness is completely legal to do now and was a year ago, too, but the officer was already threatening to arrest me for indecency before even pulling out his notepad or asking for any of my personal information (I’ll let you take a guess where I felt that was going as I started to panic — use your imagination, because I sure did, in part due to listening to the experiences of women who have been arrested “off the books”). Look at me, digressing already! Here’s a picture of one of my flyers from today:
In total, I was on the corner of West Georgia and Howe Street for an hour. I left when the march finally started after a round of speakers, due to the fact that I was bloody freezing, but the fact that I had also been repeatedly accosted by a man on a bicycle certainly wasn’t helping with my motivation (yes, ladies, that happened while none of you did anything to help), and neither was the prospect of being visually mixed up with the march itself. More on that momentarily, too.
SlutWalk’s Intent Undoing Itself Upon Impact
Once again, the intent of SlutWalk is to organize on a grassroots level to raise consciousness about rape culture, with extra emphasis on dissent from widespread slut-shaming. Cops being hired dickshits, one in Toronto blamed a woman for her own rape on the basis of what she had been wearing when it happened to her, and this is the inciting event that finally broke the camel’s back (or so we are led to believe by droves of ambitious and young white feminists), resulting in SlutWalk’s first year. Today was the third repetition of the first march. Of note, at literally every step in the process towards criminal justice for rape survivors, the kind of slut-shaming the occurred in the inciting event is institutionalized. Rape is one of the very few crimes under the Criminal Code of Canada for which the burden of proof rests entirely upon the person who has been perpetrated against, rather than the person who is being charged with the offence(s). This means that the rape survivor herself must prove that the defendant would have known without reasonable doubt that she was not consenting, yet the defendant decided to act anyway; and additionally, the rape survivor must prove that it was the defendant and couldn’t possibly have been some other rapist who jumped at the chance immediately after she had consensual sex with the defendant. It’s utterly absurd, and quite possibly the most prominent example of institutionalized hatred of women in Canadian society. But no one talks like this at SlutWalk.
So how exactly does SlutWalk act upon its intent, year after year? Again, that intent is to raise consciousness about the existence and nature of rape culture. Well, in part by organizing a once-annual rally and march (in addition to other events that share the namesake and somewhat more vaguely, share the “theme” or “intent”), and in part by declaring itself “SLUTWALK”. Take all the time you need to think about that first, even if it’s just for a moment.
. . .
And we’re back. SlutWalk “includes” women who believe there’s nothing wrong with being a “slut”, women who believe in “taking back” the word “slut”, women who believe that what you wear doesn’t make you sexually available (I couldn’t agree more!), and women who are sick and tired of being branded “sluts”. I personally have nothing against women on the basis of how many sexual partners they have had, currently have, or will have, but I do not buy into the ideology that “slut” is actually anything but a myth. I do not believe a woman exists (or ever has, or ever will) who is so desperate to fuck any biped with a cock that she would relentlessly pursue sexual encounters without ever taking time to nourish her own body and spirit, to sleep, or even to evacuate waste from her body. I do not believe in the existence of a woman who would drop everything she’s doing any time a prospective partner gave her the eye just to give him pursuit, or who would never turn down an opportunity to let someone else use her as a human sex tube. I do not believe in the existence of a woman who never experiences a low mood or physical exhaustion that would dissuade her from the pursuit of sexual pleasure. The elusive “slut” is not fully a person, but a mere sex object concocted in the minds of men who hate women, and this should be the primary indicator that she simply does not exist and never has. And even if she did? I wouldn’t have anything against her for doing everything she could to get some action. All the power to her, even though I have little doubt that her “sluttiness” would be limited to a fleeting episodic mood, as it tends to be for a majority of women, regardless of the number of partners they do or do not have. And for those women who are sick and tired of being branded “sluts”, I can’t blame them. For they know what it means, and surely, they live a significantly fuller life than that narrative allows. But no one talks like this at SlutWalk, either.
But what of these women who claim to be “taking back” the word “slut”? What does this even mean? What is there to “take back” from a word that is and always has been a misogynist slur? This word buries itself several layers deep into the psyche of every woman it is hurled at. This word bears a private humiliation so profound that it has the power to fundamentally change the way we perceive ourselves and the women around us. It is beyond objectifying — it’s dehumanizing. Once again, no one talks like this at SlutWalk, either.
At the Intersection of Gender & Race
White women are branded “sluts” when they wear a dress that’s considered too short. Women of colour, on the other hand, are branded “sluts” simply for existing while non-white. In order to understand this, a white woman doesn’t have to experience first hand what it is to be sexually objectified simply for existing. And because she is white, she may never be able to, except through analogous experiences (i.e., as a white person who is also an incest survivor, that’s about as direct as my experience can possibly ever get). But white women are exposed daily to this intersection of sexism and racism in mass media (e.g., it is a well-acknowledged fact that pop culture representations of women of colour tend with severe bias to be hyper-sexualized and/or carnal). And white women can read about the experiences of women of colour in their own words, or even about how other women are able to perceive this intersection of oppressions in their consumption of mass media. For example, literally any time a woman of colour is at risk of sexual exploitation in a Hollywood film (as if women of colour are ever even in Hollywood films in the absence of this risk — a very unlikely story), the unique ways she experiences simultaneous racism and sexism on account of her skin colour (or other racialized physiological traits) becomes a major plot device (e.g., this is the key turning point of the plot in the film Hannibal Rising and is several key points of the plot in the film Gran Turino). Even entire feature length films exist which centre exclusively around this intersection of racism and sexism (e.g., literally, this is the entire plot of the film Black Venus — also released as Venus Noire, which dramatizes the life story of Sarah Baartman). One simply cannot just turn on the television, the computer, or go to a theatre, and not be directly exposed to this. In fact, one can’t escape this in books, either.
One can’t even turn on the evening news or open the local paper and avoid being exposed to this intersection of racism and sexism. In January this year, the Missing Women’s Commission & Inquiry — into the role of police apathy in the completely preventable deaths of at least three women on the Pickton farm after 1999 (when despite having enough evidence and witnesses, VPD denied that there was a serial murderer and then stopped cooperating with witnesses), as well as the role of police apathy in the delaying of justice to the other 46 women (most of whom were of indigenous heritage) whose remains were found there — was finally concluded and a damning report released that exposes the rampant racism and sexism within local law enforcement that actually helped this serial murder spree continue for over ten years. Also, in February this year, a young local woman of indigenous heritage, wearing a shirt that said “Idle No More”, was jumped on her way home and viciously gang-raped in retaliation of the growing indigenous nationhood movement spreading across the country. Several similar stories of attacks on indigenous women (some of which turned out to be fabricated) had already begun circulating widely. These are just recent decades of real-life stories of women of colour being explicitly targeted for sexual violence, for no reason other than that they weren’t white women. These are also just the stories that have been in the news in recent decades. Listen to any woman of colour who has been in a white-dominated space for more than five minutes, and you’ll hear all about it. Even more so if that space is explicitly promoting a sexually charged atmosphere.
At the intersection of gender and race, it isn’t a privilege for women of colour to publicly embrace the idea of being voluntarily branded a “slut”. That is a privilege only white women can enjoy, for they don’t experience racism and sexism intersecting on a day-to-day basis. And though I’m not typically one to participate in the Oppression Olympics, I can promise you that the intersection of racism and sexism is far worse and more persistent than the experience of sexism intersecting with white privilege — an intersection where racist-sexist stereotyping is all but invisible, because all the focus is on what the white woman is wearing or how much she’s drinking. In other words, all the focus is on the white women, because systemic racism means that white women’s experiences get heard first (and sometimes, that’s all that’s heard).
I Stand, You Stand, We All Stand, So Let’s Stand
A lot of words were said during that rally. And honestly, most of the words from one of the organizers didn’t mean anything. It didn’t surprise me. This is a woman who believes that racism against Asian women is a sexual preference, that white privilege doesn’t exist (except as a handy trump card rebuttal she can hurl back at white people when she’s accused of being racist), and that being accused of being racist is a personal insult that entitles her to seriously violate the privacy and safety of anyone she wants (such as by outing me as a trans person, or detailing confidential information about someone she not only knows isn’t me but actually also has nothing to do with me). Well, unfortunately, this wasn’t the only organizer who said empty words.
Another organizer who was speaking made a point of saying that we are all gathered on Coast Salish land, and that she just wants everyone to be aware of that. While this is true, and perhaps she even knows that this is part of the protocol of public speaking in these territories, the manner in which she delivered it tells me that she does not know that this is part of the protocol. In fact, the way that she said it tells me that she doesn’t even know what it means to say it. As if she doesn’t know who the Coast Salish are, what their protocols around this declaration are, why people acknowledge that we are on the territories of the Coast Salish, or even that these are unceded territories and not some arbitrary land claim held in title by some vague association of the living descendants of pre-colonial tribal peoples who called this land their home. I’m willing to give that one a B for effort, but I sincerely hope that the events of today actually lead people such as herself to learn more about this gesture, so that next time she’s in a leadership position like she was today, it’s a lot more sincere.
Random Angry White Man on a Bicycle Accosted Me
I just want to start this section of my post by congratulating the organizers of the 2013 Vancouver SlutWalk for creating the first public protesting environment in which I’ve actually been repeatedly accosted for protesting. I’ve been in so many protests now that I’ve lost count. I’ve been alone in many of them, and sometimes I’ve even alone and topless. People often touch me when I’m alone in a protest — I get hugged without warning, or women will place a hand on the small of my back; but I also get a lot of high-fives and fistbumps. I’ve even been threatened with battery after being verbally gay-bashed and trans-bashed, but today was the very first time ever that a man physically struck me. After approaching me on his bicycle and immediately shouting at me that he has something to say to me, and after I silently walked away, the man began hitting the front of my home-made sandwich board and shouting in my face that he wants to talk to me. These are gestures that would constitute battery, had I not been wearing this sandwich board, which I did not realize until that moment is essentially much-needed armour constructed entirely out of foam the thickness of a typical cardboard box. I kept walking away, and the man kept pursuing me. When he kept striking me, I kept telling him to get the fuck out of my face and to stop touching me. I insisted that I don’t want to talk to him and that I’m not there to talk to him, but he kept coming back at me whenever I walked away. When I kept turning away from him or people were making the front side of me inaccessible to him, he started striking the back of my sandwich board. I started yelling at him to get the fuck out of my face and he kept shouting at me. He actually tried to tear my clothing off my completely covered face, demanding to know why I’m “hiding”. You probably all heard us, so it was sure nice of virtually all of you (and your participants) to completely ignore me and not bother to ask if I was OK once the man on the bicycle was finally gone. I’m sure that somewhere in your collective thoughts, you figured it’s my own fault anyway, and that I don’t deserve your attention because I think what you’re doing is racist and that’s personally insulting to you.
Something attracted that man to that street corner at that particular time, and somehow I don’t think it was my neon pink signs and flyers. Maybe he was in the neighbourhood by a matter of sheer unquantifiable chance, and took personal offence to the very idea that other people are being called racist, the way most white people take offence to being called racist (whether that’s simply their perception or an objective statement of fact). Except it’s not a personal offence. For the record, systemic racism isn’t a personal offence, either — it’s an unequal social force that permeates all aspects of society and infects it with apathy towards the resulting inequality that disproportionately impacts people of colour while working disproportionately to the benefit of white people. Often, white people are unconscious of this, but flail with anger and despair in anxiety and grief when they perceive that they are being directly accused of racism. Well, would you know? That’s probably not the worst thing that could happen, but racism just might be, depending on what day of the week it is or whose path you’ve just crossed?
It’s also possible that this man was attracted to that particular street corner at that particular time, thinking somehow that sexually available women would be there that he could gawk at, and that seeing me there first was troubling and upsetting to him, so he thought he would just take it out on me instead of creeping on the little parade gathering in the square. You’re welcome.
Angry White People
I also want to congratulate the organizers of the 2013 Vancouver SlutWalk for creating the first public protesting environment in which roughly 80% of the participants in the event I am counter-picketing aren’t just sneering at me, but immediately shouting in anger at me — but most importantly, that 80% of the participants were all white. Every. Single. One. I especially want to make note of the short, snotty white chick who walked up to me, staring down her nose at my sign before saying “Way to make it into something it’s not” and swaggering off towards the SlutWalk rally. Indeed, Snotty White Chick, that is precisely the problem with SlutWalk. If it hasn’t been clear at all up until this point, SlutWalk abstracts the concept of rape culture (intersecting frequently with systemic colonialism, as virtually every fucking thing does), and white-washes it until all that remains is a concept that exclusively privileges the experiences of white women, while wholly eradicating any and all attempts to critically engage the role of racial privilege in this false narrative of what rape culture even means. It makes the concept of rape culture into something it’s not. How astute of you, to attempt ironically to dictate to me the terms on which feminism is permitted to engage oppression! Onward, white feminists! Your liberation awaits you on the backs of women of colour!
Another angry white woman of marginally less significance had preceded Snotty White Chick, who told me that it would be nice if there was an open dialogue about this issue, as if I was dumping on her party by bringing the issue to her face without “opening the dialogue” first. I told her that there has been. Several times. For three years. All she could say was “Oh.” And then just like that, she was gone. But I’d also like to acknowledge here that this blog is an open space for dialogue. I don’t edit comments or selectively neglect to post them. I’ve been posting these blog entries on SlutWalk Vancouver’s Facebook page and on their event page, but they’ve been deleting them and attempting to antagonize me through passive aggressive private correspondence and serious privacy violations amounting to cyber-stalking and bullying behaviours instead (all the while accusing me of the same — I’ve been transparent in my actions, so I encourage you to decide for yourself). I posted this blog post last year from Black Women’s Blueprint the year before, as well as my sentiments from the Women And Media conference earlier that year, on SlutWalk Vancouver’s now-MIA blogspot page, too. I participated in SlutWalk Vancouver’s faux-concern Facebook poll over their namesake, and again expressed my sentiments directly to them through that medium. I stopped short of bringing this matter directly to their attention last year because I became too ill to exploit the opportunity to volunteer to express my dissent in person. In fact, the history of this event over the past three years has shown that the only people who are unwilling to have an open dialogue about SlutWalk are its organizers.
Today was also remarkable in that it’s the first time I’ve ever been shouted at several times by white people denying the existence of race. While I’m well aware that race is a social construct, that fact doesn’t make racism magically go away. In fact, due to the very nature of the social construction of race, it is positively the height of racial privilege for a white person to try to convince me that race doesn’t exist so I’m wrong for calling SlutWalk racist because they aren’t being racist in any way ever. With my entire face covered about as much is it possibly could be, and with just the tips of my fingers exposed through the holes in the ends of my gloves, they couldn’t possibly know what kind of a person they were talking to (except that I’m obviously not dark-skinned, if they were even so astute as to observe my fingertips). I just so happen to be a white person. But a lot of people pass as white who are actually ethnic minorities, survivors of ethnic cleansing in this country’s borders, or biracial. It is already incredibly ignorant of any white person to assume that racism is an illegitimate claim because “race doesn’t exist”, but it’s arrogant on top of that to assume that they are saying this to someone whose life hasn’t been radically altered by the very thing that is being subjected to flat-out denial. For instance, I also just so happen to be part Jewish. I’ll leave it to your imagination to finish that thought.
Aboriginal Tokenism & More Angry White People
I’d also like to continue congratulating the organizers of the 2013 Vancouver SlutWalk for finding — not one, but three! — Aboriginal people who were willing to speak at your event. I can see how attempting to use these people as mouthpieces for your white-washed ideas should theoretically negate all charges of racism associated with your event, but it actually doesn’t work like that. If anything, it makes it several times worse. It’s called tokenism. It’s like denying that you’re even capable of racism because you have a friend who is a person of colour. Or denying that what you said is racist because you can find a person of colour who agrees with you, or even better yet, disagrees with (your version of) what I said to you. In case it isn’t immediately obvious, I see white people do this a lot.
To be an indigenous person in that atmosphere, under that banner, addressing that audience, sure would have taken a lot of gall, and for that, I commend the three people who spoke. I especially commend their efforts to share their own histories in an environment that has done nearly everything it possibly could (explicitly, and in advance) to make sure that these histories are explicitly irrelevant to the event that is taking place. But I especially want to commend the young indigenous woman who openly acknowledged that the word “slut” isn’t even a part of the vocabulary of her traditional language, and that this concept doesn’t exist in the culture she comes from. By saying so, she told everyone there, in her own words, that the word “slut” is not hers to take back. But she also directly voiced herself against the word “slut” and the namesake of SlutWalk. I bet the organizers didn’t see that one coming when they invited her to speak, and this is exactly the message that participants and organizers alike need to hear. This is exactly the message that several people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds have been trying for three years to communicate to the SlutWalk movement. This is exactly the message at the root of why I was even there to hear the speakers at today’s rally. Finally, I feel it’s important to acknowledge that this young woman began talking around the intersection of racism and sexism in her own life — as if, because this had yet to be openly acknowledged by any of the previous speakers or anywhere in the SlutWalk agenda, she couldn’t pronounce it out loud. This is equally as significant, to me, as the fact that the very concept of a “slut” is inherently colonial.
As soon as she was done speaking, two more angry white people approached me and reported to me that an Aboriginal woman was just speaking, as if that somehow magically negates the racism embedded in the very concept of SlutWalk. We had a talk about this. I told them that this is called tokenism. I told them that using people of colour as mouthpieces for white ideas doesn’t undo racism. I told them that if anything, it makes it worse. One of them said, “Well, OK, I can see that being racist, but white supremacist?” I told them that white supremacy is another way of saying racism. I told them that when everything is about white people, that literally is white supremacy. And you know what happened? By the end of this conversation, which lasted less than five minutes total, those once-angry white people were actually thanking me for being there to explain this to them and to other people. I hadn’t just completely wasted my time, because two more people became aware of the problem.
“But Slut Isn’t a Race.”
After my conversation which successfully diffused the anger and anxiety of two white people, I was approached by two men of colour, who started off immediately by asking me how they are racist. I told them that it’s not “You are racist” or “You are racist for participating here” but “This event SlutWalk is racist, in its concept and its leadership”. We had a brief chat about the social construction of race being artificial, but racism being quite a real experience, and then one of them said “But slut isn’t a race.”
First, I’d just like to say it now because I didn’t then: Wow, dude. Not even remotely where this idea was ever going.
Honestly, at that point, I just did my best to repeat that the issue is about the social construction of race and the resulting experiences of women of colour, which are both ideas that are expressed on the flyers I was passing out. I also started to talk about how these experiences are reflected back to us through mass media, and the man who said “But slut isn’t a race” simply tried to dismiss what I have to say as mere opinion before asking if he could take my picture, snapping a couple frames, and walking away. Ultimately, this isn’t a conversation these two men were ready to have, even though they appeared at various times to be joining in on the walk together. And on a street corner next to ten lanes of high-volume traffic probably isn’t the ideal place to have that conversation. Especially not when my face is covered, making it harder for me to speak.
But the point of counter-picketing on that corner for that hour today wasn’t to have a serious conversation — it was to start one. This conversation may not happen with those two men, but they weren’t the only people who reached for a flyer today.